Bearing the scars of 1976 to free today’s youth

Students gather on the fateful day of June 16 1976.

June 16 1976 proved to be a watershed moment in South Africa’s history.

Today, 40 years on, some still bear physical and emotional scars as they think of a time when all that mattered was the country’s liberation.

One such person is former Woodstock resident Shaamiel Abbass.

“I had such a horrible experience where I was shot at by the riot police. I still carry the bullet wound in my right leg.”

Mr Abbass was in Standard 7 at Harold Cressy High School at the time of the uprising.

Harold Cressy was one of the schools where pupils were active in the marches to Trafalgar High School, and then to Parliament in 1976, standing up against Bantu Education.

“We were active during the 1976 youth uprising. It was a national movement.

“We stood up in the Cape Town area, and we decided to march to town. We were joined by Belgravia, Vista, Sinton and Trafalgar high schools.

“When we got to Trafalgar, we were met by the riot police.”

Mr Abbass recalls the clash that ensued with the riot police, during which a school friend of his got shot in the head. The pupils were shot at, teargassed and batoned by the police.

“We burnt tyres, we barricaded roads, but we never burnt down our schools.

“We were so young, yet we had to use guerrilla warfare against the riot police and the apartheid government.”

He said his peers were a lot wiser than the youth today.

They took on household responsibilities, as both parents often worked, and older siblings had to look after the younger ones.

“We fought for what the youth have today. Now that they are free, they are nonchalant.”

Riaan Frazenberg, 14, a pupil at Queens Park High School, agrees that the youth today have far less responsibilities.

“We don’t really have any responsibilities, except to clean up after ourselves. Our parents do the rest.”

He said the youth of today’s interests focus on matters such as “cellphones, soccer and girls.”

Asked what he thinks the struggles are that the youth face today, he said: We don’t really have any. Except for the school curriculum. It is a bit hard. Back in the day, they didn’t have this curriculum.”

However, Mr Abbass said children should be proud of the curriculum, which is a far cry from the propaganda they were fed.

“We were taught our place in (the) apartheid (system). We learnt about the generals – all architects of apartheid.”

One of the concerns Riaan had, however, was around employment opportunities for the youth today.

He said that, once children matriculate, they have to study to find a job which is sustainable.

Mr Abbass agreed, saying that in their day, Standard 8 (Grade 10) was the schooling level that youth more or less needed.

“Parents took kids out of school at Standard 8 to provide for the household but mainly, the reason we could not finish school was because of the struggle. Few of us matriculated.”

He said that, with abolishing apartheid being the main objective, many sacrificed their education to achieve that goal.

While Riaan was sceptical about just how free the youth of today are in view of the current political climate, he said his generation was grateful to their parents and grandparents for the struggles they endured.

“We have freedom because of them. If it was still that time (apartheid), then I probably couldn’t go to school at Queens Park.”